Insiders Pre-Camp Look – Defensive Line

? – Is the Bearcats defensive front the weakest part of this year's defense? As the Bearcats start to report and prepare for their annual trip to Camp Higher Ground, we look at those players who will be called upon to strengthen an area many feel has several questions.

The biggest question mark in the upcoming year will be how well the revamped defensive front can perform. In the past the play up front has allowed for other areas of the defense to excel.

With a couple of player moves fans can be sure there will be battles won and lost in the trenches during camp and tinkering may continue during the first couple of weeks.

As we've done in the other areas we'll start with an All-American in defensive tackle Terrill Byrd. The Cincinnati Colerain product has shown those who doubted his ability he not only could compete at the college level but excel as one of the top players in the game. When all is said and done he'll go down as one of the top Bearcats of all-time.

Despite his lack of height, I've only seen one other player in the college game with as quick of a first step. That player was Warren Sapp. Like the former Miami Hurricane, Byrd uses his first step, leverage and freakish strength to gain control of single and double teams while being able to stuff the run or pressure the quarterback into making a mistake.

Byrd will miss the season opener but will be ready and primed for a great performance against Oklahoma in game two.

Lamonte Nelms has waited his turn and seen moves from the secondary and linebacker prior to finding a home at defensive end. The Ravenna High School product learned from some good players over the past couple of years and brings size, strength and speed to the field.

Nelms will have saved his best for his senior year as big things are expected from him. Last season Nelms showed the ability to make tackles behind the line of scrimmage and this fall look for those numbers to increase.

Adam Hoppel in another of a long line of Bearcats that has earned everything he's got. The Beaver Local product is the perfect complement to Byrd and the pair can make things happen that causes offensive linemen to have nightmares.

Power and brute strength with surprising quickness are Hoppel's strengths and while he may not post the numbers of his counterpart he plays just as big of a role.

Bearcat defensive ends learned last season how much Hoppel's play can help open things up for them.

Can a tight end become a major player at the defensive end position in just over a five month period? That is the question that will be answered early as Connor Barwin looks to make a name as a defender.

The University of Detroit Jesuit product will have a legacy no matter how this season ends with his time spent on the football field and basketball court in a Bearcats jersey. But if the spring was any indication of what should be expected, don't be surprised if Barwin proves up to the challenge presented to him by Brian Kelly.

At 6-foot-4, 255-pounds Barwin has the body to compete at the highest level. While he's still working on technique, look for an even better performance as the season gets started.

Like Barwin the Bearcats have another player that has crossed over from the offensive side of the football looking to create havoc as a defensive end. Former Elder High School product Craig Carey has bulked up in Paul Longo's weight room over the past few months and will look to take his share of snaps during the season.

Having made a name on special teams, Carey has the confidence and natural ability to excel with this move.

Redshirt freshman John Hughes looks to enter the race for playing time this fall after showing signs he could become a major player as a Bearcat. The Gahanna Lincoln product has the physical size Brian Kelly's defensive staff loves from their guys up front and should be given every chance to earn playing time.

While we looked at a few questions across the defensive front we've not even touched the biggest ones.

Will Alex Daniels be physically ready to battle when the season begins? The former Columbus Brookhaven product was one of most recruited players in Ohio as a senior with scholarship offers from all the giant programs across the country. With his past behind him, Daniels will look to show he was worthy of all the acclaim given him as a prep player.

Fighting with Daniels for playing time is Rob Trigg. The Dayton Chaminade-Julienne product provided depth last season but now looks for more playing time.

Ricardo Mathews was in Trigg's position last season and saw his number go up. But the talented Mathews remains hungry for more time on the field as he enters his junior season. If his production continues to climb Mathews has the talent to be a major player before he ends his career.

A name not new to the Bearcats looks to make another return. Curtis Young / Smith has fought to overcome several setbacks since leaving Cleveland Glenville High School.

Blessed with major talent on the field, it's been his off the field issues that have kept Curtis from reaching his full potential. At the time this was being written Curtis looked to be on track to be readmitted to the University of Cincinnati after being suspended from the university the last academic year.

If Curtis is back and ready to show the skills that made Bearcat fans excited a few years ago then he'll be a major addition to the program in a year where more help is needed in the defensive front.

Thomas Claggett showed much promise as a freshman but has disappeared the past two seasons. Now a senior, Claggett wants to be known for more than just his lion's roar fans became accustomed to last season. The Frederick Douglass product has the physical tools to compete but must put it all together to earn playing time this fall.

Much like Claggett, another Bearcat has yet to reach the potential many felt he'd have after high school. Tyler Clifford will need to make strides this fall or fall farther behind on the depth chart and see any chance of getting on the field end after this season.

Fans have to hope the staff doesn't have to call on the two true freshmen along the line. Dan Giordana and Derek Wolfe have some great physical tools with Wolfe already having the total package to compete.

If the staff does use either of the two this fall it will mean more for their development for next season as it will for any defects in the players ahead of them.

Brandon Mills will delay his entrance to UC until the winter instead of entering with his class. This is a great move for Mills as he's just turned 17 years old and his eligibility clock won't start until the following year.

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